It was pasta on a Roman scale Sunday at the Orange County Red Cross's second annual Spaghetti Cook-Off at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.
About 5,000 sauce lovers strolled among the 40 makeshift outdoor kitchens to sample the simmering secret recipes concocted by participating restaurants, businesses and charity groups.
Entrants included a couple of Marine fliers who dubbed themselves the Flying Fettucine Brothers and busily recruited passers-by to taste their hot stuff, and a crew from E. F. Hutton's Costa Mesa office, who worked on an authentic version of the spaghetti topping, according to Joe Gerace (his family is from Calabria on the south coast of Italy), the local manager and team captain.
The contestants vied before a judging panel that featured Italians and Italians-for-the-day, including Kermit Alexander and Paul Salata, both former San Francisco 49ers, Balboa Bay Club owner William Ray, and local restaurant critics Paul Wallach, Karen Tyncall and Bert Forbes.
Emilia's restaurant of Santa Ana seemed to have imported half the architecture, music and culture of Rome, including an accordion player who belted out Italian tunes. Even so, the judges declared the winner to be Mama's, a home-brewed sauce, prepared by Cheryl and Kevin Phillips of Anaheim, Grant Wirtz of Huntington Beach and Dona Stevenson of Tustin.
Mama's team took home $1,000 and a trophy, while second-sauce honors and $500 went to the "Pasta Partners"-- Scott Raczek, Mariela McGill, Cindy Blackburn and Earl Schmidt, all of Anaheim.
Third prize was awarded to another home-style team, the "Saucy Ladies"--actually a mixed doubles team of Laura and Richard Ward of Fullerton and Sondra and Steve Laster of Long Beach. Louie Louie's, the restaurant team that walked away with first place last year, came in fourth--but captured the showmanship award for its elaborate booth, complete with an organ grinder and tiny monkey.
Pepino's Restaurant of El Toro captured the people's choice award.
But not all the spice was in the sauce. The Firefoxes, a group of county firefighters who pose beefcake style for a calendar benefiting the UCI Burn Center, were on hand to escort the shapely entrants in the Miss Pasta contest. They pledged a portion of their calendar sales to the Red Cross.
Rick Dees, KIIS-FM morning personality, arrived after throwing out the first pitch for the Angels game at Anaheim stadium--too late to judge the Miss Pasta contest but just in time to get the crowd ready for some spaghetti-slurping contests and the final sauce judging.
The more than $22,000 (according to hasty Monday morning calculations) raised will go directly toward disaster relief efforts in Orange County, according to Jody Chivara, a Red Cross Cook-Off committee member (and proprietor of Salvatore's, a cook-off team).
Chivara called the afternoon a success but said she wanted to let more people know that such events are vital to the local Red Cross--a nonprofit organization that is not government funded--a common misconception, according to Chivara.